The first F-35 has been inducted into BAE Systems Australia’s (BAESA) new maintenance depot at RAAF Base Williamtown.
The facility will perform MRO work on four of Australia’s fleet of 33 F-35s this year, with plans that it could also welcome other nation’s aircraft in future.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Defence Minister Linda Reynolds, Defence Industry Minister Melissa Price, Chief of Air Force Air Marshal Mel Hupfeld and BAE Systems Australia CEO Gabby Costigan attended an event on mark the milestone on Monday.
Minister for Defence Linda Reynolds said, “We now have 41 fully trained RAAF pilots, nine of whom trained on home soil at RAAF Base Williamtown. We also have more than 225 trained technicians as the RAAF’s F-35A maintenance capability continues to develop.”
A new $70 million training contract awarded to Lockheed Martin Australia will see more than 70 people employed at Base Williamtown and Tindal. The Williamtown facility, which serves as the Southern Pacific Regional F-35 Heavy Airframe Depot, is planned to support F-35s for the next 30 years.
An initial team of 32 technicians has already recruited to provide airframe maintenance and sustainment, with hopes F-35 MOR will eventually create 360 BAE jobs over the next 10 years.
Prime Minister Morrison said, “This is about protecting and securing Australia’s interests but it’s also creating jobs and driving investment right here in the Hunter and across the country too.
“This induction demonstrates the world-leading capability of our local defence industry here in Australia.
“We want to give as many opportunities to Australian companies as possible which is why there’s already more than 50 local companies sharing in $2.7 billion worth of contracts as part of the F-35 Program.”
Minister Price revealed how the facility helped those affected by the closure of Jetstar’s maintenance facility in the area.
“BAESA recently hired 25 former Jetstar employees who had been made redundant as a result of the pandemic,” she said. “Not only have these technical workers been retained in the local Hunter aviation industry, but they will also help Defence build its sovereign sustainment capability as the fleet continues to grow.”
In December, Australian Aviation reported how Australia’s F-35A Lightning II fleet passed the final regulatory hurdle required to be deployed on operations.
Over the coming years, Australia will purchase 72 of the advanced fifth-generation fighter aircraft as part of the $17 billion AIR 6000 Phase 2A/B program – which is aimed at replacing the ageing F/A-18A/B Classic Hornets that have been in service with the RAAF since 1985.
The F-35A – the variant chosen by the RAAF – will have with a projected life of 30 years in service and be based at RAAF Base Williamtown and Base Tindal.
The green light to deploy the F-35A comes two months after a joint training exercise between the US Air Force and RAAF at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona has allowed Australia to declare its F-35 capability fully operational. The RAAF currently has 30 based in Australia.
The first F-35A was delivered in December 2018 and all 72 aircraft are expected to be cleared for combat by 2023.
The single-seat F-35 boasts a full-spectrum of low-observable stealth coatings and materials, advanced radar-dispersing shaping, network-centric sensor and communications suites alongside a potent strike capability.